Andy Seminick played in the 1950 World Series on a broken ankle. Stan Lopata and Benito Santiago each gave us a year of tremendous power. Darren Daulton helped give us 1993. Bob Boone gave us the honor of seeing possibly the best defensive catcher in history and helped give us 1980. Mike Lieberthal gave us hope, until he blew out his knee and was never really the same catcher again. Today’s catcher Carlos Ruiz gave us 2008 and makes us remember our love for ice cream.
Catchers for the Phillies have often been a hit or miss position during their years. With names like Spud Davis, the famous Bob Uecker, John Russell, Irish Mike Ryan, Johnny Peacock, Rod Barajas, and Gus Mancuso all manning the spot in team history it might surprise many that the Phillies have actually had decent catching for the most part since the mid 1970s, especially on the defensive end. Included in those years were some of the better defensive catchers in the game during their respective times like Santiago, Lake, and Boone, while guys like Daulton, Bo Diaz, Ozzie Virgil, Lieberthal, McCarver, and Brian Schneider are or were pretty good behind the plate in their own right.
The incumbent behind the plate Carlos Ruiz is one of the better defensive catchers in the game. His game calling is often sighted by his pitchers as a huge reason for their success. He can block the plate with the best of them and is very good at making sure sliders in the dirt don’t reach the backstop. Ask Brad Lidge about that part and he will gush forth with praise for the man they call “Chooch”. Ruiz also has a strong arm and a quick release to second on attempted steals. Most stolen bases against him come from the pitcher not from Ruiz not being able to gun anyone down. In the National League St. Louis’ Yadier Molina and maybe Cincinnati’s Ryan Hanigan are the only better catchers on the defensive side and Hanigan is arguable. Charlie Manuel often sites Ruiz as being one of the most indispensible parts of the team and his pitchers all agree.
On the offensive side Ruiz is not quite as good but he is not a bad guy in the line up. What he lacks in power he makes up for in getting on base. Even when his offense is suffering, as in 2008 when he hit .219, it never affects the other parts of his game. Ruiz has had OBP clips of .371, .400, and .355 in the last three seasons and he walks as much as or more than he strikes out. Running will never be a strong suit for him but he has managed to cut his grounded into double play balls down to 7-8 a year. He is usually very good in the playoffs as well, though last season against the Cardinals he disappeared.
Despite getting injured every year at some point he manages to play a lot of games every year. Many people think too many as Charlie Manuel always runs him out there. Last year he played in a career high 132 games and some think that could be why he performed so poorly in the playoffs. Getting him a bit more rest might be a good idea this season but one has to think that Manuel will be penciling Ruiz in at the number 8 spot in the line up as often as he can this season like every other year since Mike Lieberthal left.
Backing Ruiz up for the third season is Brian Schneider. Schneider is another plus defensive catcher. He had some troubles his first year on the team but last year was phenomenal behind the plate and with working with some of the pitchers. Vance Worley was one of the young pitchers Schneider is credited with really helping out. Schneider became to Worley what Tim McCarver was for Steve Carlton and Worley’s numbers took off. Schneider also has a plus arm behind the plate.
While he is a plus on the defensive side Schneider’s offense took a major nose dive last year. He batted well under the Mendoza line and displayed none of the minor power he has. Schneider is another guy who can work a count and take some walks, but his lack of hitting offset all of that. He is a guy whose OBP is usually 70-90 points higher than his average but hitting .175 won’t make anyone’s OBP look good. Of course the Phillies have said they really do not care about his offense at all, as long as his defense is strong and he calls great games they are happy. While I can agree somewhat, having a few black holes at the bottom of the line up did hurt the team often last season.
Schneider’s durability is also a question as he was hurt a few times since he came over to the Phillies from the Mets. The worst part is when he was hurt it was also when Carlos Ruiz was hurt at the same time. This prompted the Phillies to use Paul Hoover in 2010 and Dane Sardinha in 2010 and 2011 as their starting catcher and actually had no back up catcher behind them if either of them got hurt. That is very alarming.
Both Hoover and Sardinha are both gone and right now the third catcher on the depth chart is a guy like Schneider in that he is a local. Late bloomer Er ic Kratz has been a great catcher at AAA the last 3 years, hitting well and helping the pitchers on the farm out, even being a AAA All Star. He has had brief cups of coffee in the Majors the last two years with both Pittsburgh and with the Phillies. He is not a bad guy to have as depth. He was a late bloomer but he seems to be making the most of it and would be a much better call up than the departed Sardinha whose defense was over-rated and his offensive potential was more Ueckeresque than Mike Piazza territory. Yes I used a Tom McCarthyism there.
Kratz has shown decent power at AAA and if Ruiz and Schneider get hurt what is lost on defense may be made up somewhat with his bat. Kratz is also fearless behind the plate. He has taken a full force charge from a rampaging Prince Fielder with a bone jarring collision and held onto the ball and popped right up afterwards when he was with the Pirates. More guts than Rod Barajas showed when he was here to be sure.
After Kratz you have long time minor leaguer John Suomi and youngster Tuffy Gosewich. Gosewich is a good defensive catcher with some power and he put together a nice season for Reading last year even if the stats don’t show it all. Both of these players figure to be at AAA Lehigh or AA Reading this season. Suomi is a minor league veteran who the Phillies like because he works well with pitchers and younger catchers. He doesn’t figure in much on the Major League depth charts but is more important in the system chain.
Help after that is farther down the pipeline as Joel Naughton was released last year and Travis D’Arnaud was traded for Roy Halladay two years ago. Tim Kennelly has good power but doesn’t make contact and is more of a utility catcher than someone who would be an everyday backstop. He spent the year at AA Reading and only hit .215 last year. Sebastian Valle and Cameron Rupp are the Phillies two prize catching prospects in their minor league system. Both players are a few years away and both have a few holes in there game yet. Valle is closest to the Majors but he is not a very patient hitter and strikes out an awful lot.
Rupp is just a year behind, despite being older and has more raw power potential but like Valle he does not take many walks and strikes out quite a bit. The Phillies are also waiting for the power to come, so far it hasn’t yet but they think he will grow into in very soon. The good news is both players are still young and it is possible both can grow into being good catchers like Ruiz did. Both could also arrive around the same time giving the Phillies young and cheap catchers letting them spend money elsewhere to fill in holes. This may be more important after this season because Ruiz and Schneider are both free agents after the season ends.
The Phillies have also brought in Steven Lerud from the Baltimore system. He looks to be a defense first guy and organizational filler at the AA level after hitting just .193 at AA Bowie. His slugging was a robust .303 so he doesn’t even have pop when he does make contact.
No one else in the system really is much of a prospect yet, though the Phillies did take a few catchers in the 2011 draft and a few look to be intriguing prospects. Time will tell if Zach Wright or Logan Moore or any of the others can develop. If not then three years from now we all may be typing the same things
Right now this might be the place of the least amount of depth for the team, but it is like that for most teams in baseball. Catcher is really a hard position for teams to get a bunch of depth in as most know. It is why you rarely see really good catching prospects let go unless it is for top notch talent like Roy Halladay or Michael Pineda (if you consider Montero a top notch catcher and not a DH/1B). One positive is that there are still guys out there in the event of injury who can help. Pudge Rodriguez, Jason Varitek, Ramon Castro, and Omir Santos are still free agents if someone does get hurt and the Phillies need some added depth. Castro in particular has really good power and is above average defensively if they do need an outside face.
With both catchers on the market after this year this position could look really different next season. One positive is, Yadier Molina will be a free agent by all accounts (he seems disgruntled at the Cardinals right now), so if the Phillies want to spend some cash there is a replacement out there.
Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider, Thankfully Dan Sardinha does not go here, Eric Kratz, Tuffy Gosewich, This is where the depth drops off a cliff until Valle and Rupp are ready, John Suomi, Steven Lerud, Tim Kennelly, Sebastian Valle, Cameron Rupp, This is the graveyard where you hope Morre, Hill, and Wright can develop quick, Kyle Lafrenz, Francisco Diaz, Bob Stumpo
Be sure to check out the rest of this series:
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: First Base
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: Second Base
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: Third Base
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: Shortstop
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: The Outfield
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: Pitching – The Rotation
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: Pitching – The Bullpen
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Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.